Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Venezuela, Guyana tensions rise after ship seizure

The Venezuelan and Guyanese governments are set to meet Thursday to discuss the fate of a survey ship, used by oil firm Anadarko, which was seized from Guyanese waters last Thursday. Venezuela accused the ship of violating its territorial waters, while Guyana has called the “unprecedented” move a serious threat to security. The diplomatic meeting set to take place in Trinidad & Tobago is aimed at forestalling any further confrontation between the two nations, whose unresolved borders have been a source of conflict for over a century.
According to Guyana's foreign ministry, Venezuelan ship Yekuana ordered the vessel RV Teknik Perdana, which Caracas deemed to be in its Exclusive Economic Zone, to stop surveying and subsequently escorted it to the island of Margarita. The ship was being used by Texas-based Anadarko, who were awarded a deep-water exploration licence for the Roraima block by Georgetown in June 2012. The company said it was “co-operating fully” with both governments, the US Coast Guard and embassy officials.
The discovery back in 2011 of significant hydrocarbons deposits offshore French Guyana has dramatically increased the presence of IOCs prospecting for fields in the north eastern region of South America. Since then, a Venezuelan naval detachment has been placed in the disputed Essequibo area, located between the Cuyuni River to the west and the Essequibo River to the east and covering 159,500 km2, to ward off Guayanese patrols.
The maritime boundary between the two Latin American nations is unsettled largely because the land boundary between the two is still contested. In the nineteenth century, the border was effectively drawn up by the British, which became a bone of contention with Venezuela. US-backed arbitration in 1899 set a line largely in Britain's favour, but the claim was revived in the 1960s.
Since becoming independent in 1966, Guyana has administered the territory, but Venezuela insists that the boundary is a colonial hangover which is null and void, and refers to the disputed area as a “zone of reclamation”. The recent ship seizure is unlikely to escalate into anything serious, with both sides working towards a cordial, diplomatic resolution, but until the outlines of a settlement are reached, it introduces a further degree of uncertainty into regional oil and gas exploration.

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